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💀 Necro Horror games and the "first death" problem

Calliope

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So, as some of you might know, I'm a big horror fan. I've been thinking a lot about horror lately and how it functions in different media.

Obviously, there are a lot of horror games, some of them very successful and well-regarded. The growth of VR seems to promise a whole new angle to interactive horror experiences.

That said, I've always found difficulty connecting to a lot of horror games for various reasons. Some of them have discussed a lot in the past, such as how "empowerment" (giving the player a ton of weapons and abilities) detracts from the sense of helplessness that lies at the core of a lot of horror stories. One I don't see mentioned as often, though (maybe it's just me?), is the "first death" problem. Let me explain:

Okay, so you know how the first time you see a scripted sequence in a game, it might seem really impressive, but after you've died and had to repeat that same bit 10 times, it starts feeling canned and tedious and artificial?

What I'm talking about is sort of the same thing - how the threat of death (or other consequences) in a horror game is often more effective than ACTUAL death or other consequences.

My go-to example for this is Amnesia. When I first played Amnesia, before I'd actually SEEN any of the monsters, it was pretty effective. The tension, the uncertainty, the sense of being unable to fight back...all of these helped ramp up the anxiety. And then I died for the first time, and all of that went right out the window. I restarted a short time back, I'd seen the monster up-close, and...the threat was revealed as a paper tiger. I'd seen the strings.

Obviously, I never actually thought I was in any real danger from the game. But it seems that a lot of horror games rely on that illusion of peril, and at least in my experience, once you've ACTUALLY died, that illusion vanishes.

I'm curious about two things, really: one, if other people have had similar experiences, and two, what might be a solution to this problem?


(Obviously, we're talking about a specific sort of horror, here, as not all horror relies on that feeling of insecurity and threat. You can have stuff like Martyrs that instead evokes a sense of hollowness and disgust and despair, or campy stuff that's "horror" mostly only in he sense that it uses horror tropes and aesthetics, or stuff like American Mary that's more about watching a character's slow descent.)
 
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beachnik

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I think there's certainly a problem that you've identified there. In contrast in Amnesia I didn't find that, because while I did die I never got a particularly good look at the monster that killed me, and when I acted as though the monster was in the place it had killed me, it often wasn't, and I think that's the thing that horror games really need to avoid. The big easily replicatable set pieces that can kill someone a bunch of times.

What might be better, is a rule that the same thing cannot kill you twice. For example, you get killed by a monster hanging above a door. It kills you, you respawn, and instead of the monster there's the evidence of your grisly demise. Couple that with an in-story reason for you to be able to respawn, and possibly with a theme of you degrading each time you die either physically, or mentally, or both, then I think you can preserve the horror aspect while removing the first death issue you talk about.
 

Leonaru

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I agree that death via QTEs or similar passages definitely destroyed the immersion. Bonus points for unskippable cut scenes that go from "What is bind this door!?" to "Jumpscare for the fourth time... zzzzzzz".
 

Killer300

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Confession:

I'm not easy to scare in other media, or even really get creeped out for awhile. Mind you, I haven't watched the full range of horror films, but still, its harder to... get into things frequently for me in other media.

Then there are video games. And probably the scariest moments for me with fictional media has been... with a video game. The sheer level of immersion, even before VR, and that, in theory at least, anything bad that happens is your fault, because you failed.

To give a comparison, the problem with non-interactive horror is, essentially, it is happening to someone else. So, even if they do die, your still detached from that. Obviously, there are ways around this, and this will vary by personal experience, but, I'm just bringing up something that impacted me.



So, with all this said, I do see the issue of the first death problem, which is essentially, repeated deaths can remove the effect. However, I think an interesting counter lies in the rogue-like genre, where the game Darkwood takes advantage of, or at least tries to. Mind you, that game actually shows the problem of not being able to fight back, but, that's something I'll touch on later.

Randomness could, in theory at least, prevent the same type of scare being repeated too many times, and if one has permadeath, it would add a lot more tension to dying.
 

Killer300

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I think there's certainly a problem that you've identified there. In contrast in Amnesia I didn't find that, because while I did die I never got a particularly good look at the monster that killed me, and when I acted as though the monster was in the place it had killed me, it often wasn't, and I think that's the thing that horror games really need to avoid. The big easily replicatable set pieces that can kill someone a bunch of times.

What might be better, is a rule that the same thing cannot kill you twice. For example, you get killed by a monster hanging above a door. It kills you, you respawn, and instead of the monster there's the evidence of your grisly demise. Couple that with an in-story reason for you to be able to respawn, and possibly with a theme of you degrading each time you die either physically, or mentally, or both, then I think you can preserve the horror aspect while removing the first death issue you talk about.
And you had ninja'd me.:mad::p

But basically, procedural generation, for example, could be a huge help to horror games, if it was implemented properly.

Also, I remember when Alien: Isolation came out how people loved that the Alien's A.I. was unpredictable, which is something other horror monsters suffer a lot from.
 

Killer300

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I agree that death via QTEs or similar passages definitely destroyed the immersion. Bonus points for unskippable cut scenes that go from "What is bind this door!?" to "Jumpscare for the fourth time... zzzzzzz".
This I certainly agree with.

This actually goes to a point I have with Darkwood that heavily weakens it, and the problem of not being able to fight back.

Darkwood, at least in the version I played, you could only fight back if you have a weapon. Now, seems fair enough, except, weapons break constantly. So, because of this, too often in the game, which has no stealth elements and you can't really outrun monsters, players can die too often in a row because they lack any ability to change the outcome.

The last matters, because part of what makes a horror game incredibly scary is that you're the one responsible, on some level, for whether your character lives or dies(or what have you). Taking that away will eventually lessen the horror because once again, the player becomes detached from what happens to whom they're playing.
 

Calliope

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Maybe I'm just weird, but to me, the problem isn't repeating the same content over and over. It's that, once I've died in a game, avoiding death becomes a mechanical challenge rather than something I'm doing out of actual anxiety. It's functionally no different from avoiding getting caught in, say, Thief or dying in a spectacle fighter. It's something to be avoided because of the annoying mechanical consequences, but it's not something that actually evokes any sort of emotional response in me.

Once I'd died the first time in Amnesia, the monsters held literally no fear for me. They became, well...AI constructs using simple pathfinding routines. It was like seeing the zipper on the monster costume in a movie.

Now, I haven't played any of this stuff with the Oculus or similar headsets, so it's possible that the immersion level would jab something in my lizard brain hard enough to overcome that issue.
 

Stryke

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I think it depends how scary the death is too. I know that the original AvP with the Facehuggers that would cover the entire screen would freak the everliving fuck out of me every time back in the day.
 

Killer300

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Maybe I'm just weird, but to me, the problem isn't repeating the same content over and over. It's that, once I've died in a game, avoiding death becomes a mechanical challenge rather than something I'm doing out of actual anxiety. It's functionally no different from avoiding getting caught in, say, Thief or dying in a spectacle fighter. It's something to be avoided because of the annoying mechanical consequences, but it's not something that actually evokes any sort of emotional response in me.

Once I'd died the first time in Amnesia, the monsters held literally no fear for me. They became, well...AI constructs using simple pathfinding routines. It was like seeing the zipper on the monster costume in a movie.

Now, I haven't played any of this stuff with the Oculus or similar headsets, so it's possible that the immersion level would jab something in my lizard brain hard enough to overcome that issue.
That actually brings up an interesting thought.

What if instead of avoiding death, you were avoiding something else, that could have very different consequences?
This will need work, but, well, there's a reason I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is a trope. Having fates like that perhaps instead of a traditional death, if you will, could perhaps act as better motivation.

Essentially, it sounds like the issue is the consequence doesn't have any impact beyond mechanical on the player, which is understandable.
 

daHob

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What if, when you screw up and the monster catches you, it usually /doesn't/ kill you? Like, it likes to play with its prey? You get a tense scene, scary music maybe you lose control, and the outcome is usually just looms in the darkness but occasionally it jump scares and murders you bloody?
 
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